Honoring UUFA’s Hands Chalice

By Myrna Adams West

For 35 years the bronze hands have stood on their marble base and lifted the flaming chalice to call our congregation to worship.  After all these years, they are tired and ready to rest in a place of honor.

The hands and chalice bowl were sculpted and attached to an Italian marble base by UUFA member Barbara Reese in 1979 while the congregation was meeting in the building at 834 Prince Avenue.   Thirteen years later the congregation moved into the current building on Timothy Road, bringing the “Hands Chalice” to grace the low table made by Dr. Jim Woodruff in memory of John Garst, son of long-time members Edna and John Garst.

Since that time the bronze hands have lifted the chalice of liberal religion at worship services, congregational meetings, committee meetings, weddings, memorial services, Solstice services, musical programs, and fun nights.  Its unique form has represented UUFA on banners, stationery, brochures, newsletters, web pages, and in numerous photographs.  A photograph taken in 1989 by James Morgenthaler appeared as the November chalice of the month in a calendar featuring Unitarian Universalist Chalices from across the Western Hemisphere.

The Hands Chalice was officially retired at the end of 2014.  While the arms and hands appear to be the most likely handles for lifting and moving it, the heavy marble base makes it bottom heavy and awkward to lift.  When lifted that way, the bolts that attach the hands to the marble strain to hold the heavy marble, and gravity pulls the whole piece downward.  Through the years the heavy sculpture has been dropped several times.  The bolts that once secured the hands to the base are bent and stripped and no longer hold the bronze pieces tight against the base.  Now the hands too easily pivot away from each other when sitting on the table, making the bronze bowl fall out from between the little fingers or from between the thumbs.

Sculptors in residence at UUFA, Rocky Sapp and Bob Clements, have both declined to attempt to tighten the bolts for fear of the marble cracking and suggest only that epoxy might be applied between the arms and the marble.  Neither wants to take on that type of repair, however.  Other artists who have been consulted offer no additional suggestions.  So, after much discussion and consideration, the Worship Arts Committee has decided to retire the Hands Chalice and to give it a place of honor in the building where it can still be admired.

In the meantime, the Worship Arts Committee hopes you will enjoy the array of chalices that will shelter our symbolic light as we decorate the worship space in seasonal colors and thematic arrangements.  Watch for additional opportunities to give feedback about what should be done concerning UUFA having a permanent chalice.

The unique design of the Hands Chalice has served as an apt symbol of a Unitarian Universalist congregation whose vision statement calls it to be a beacon of liberal religion in Northeast Georgia.  The hands represent our hands reaching up to shine the light of Unitarian Universalism’s good news as the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens follows our vision to “welcome greater diversity and search for deeper meaning.  [To speak and act for justice, as we model] sustainable stewardship of personal and earth resources, [and to] strive to transform our world.”